OPINION: WILL the real Warrnambool and District league premiership favourite please stand up?
A remarkably even football season has one round to go before finals and none of the contenders are without question marks surrounding their credentials.
That’s not to say any of the five would be undeserving of raising the flag, far from it. But all have the potential to be exposed in a cut-throat final.
To that end, minor premier Panmure is in the box seat to claim a third-consecutive premiership, despite its stuttering end to the regular season.
A super campaign — 16 wins, one loss — means the Bulldogs will have fewer hurdles to clear in finals than their rivals to secure a berth in the decider.
But, from the outside, doubts have started to emerge about a side which a month ago seemed destined to achieve a rare three-peat.
Simon O’Keefe’s men failed against Merrivale a fortnight ago in front of a finals-like crowd and needed a late burst to get over Old Collegians last weekend. Credit where credit is due. They’ve been the best side so far. But even O’Keefe knows their current form won’t stack up in the heat of a grand final.
“We are in a bit of a lull at the moment so we have to keep working hard to get ourselves out of it,” he said after beating the Warriors.
Hot on their heels are Merrivale and Dennington. Only a football miracle would prevent a qualifying match-up between the pair to open the finals.
The Tigers have a 13-4 record but have gone 3-4 against sides in the top five and there are questions about how they stack up against bigger-bodied sides.
The past two matches have highlighted their inconsistency. A memorable win against Panmure preceded a poor effort against Dennington.
Thankfully, for coach Karl Dwyer at least, finals are likely to be on big grounds with firm decks. There is every chance they can turn the tables in a fortnight.
Dennington has perhaps the fewest doubts hovering over its form entering the post-season. Ben Parkinson’s Dogs have lost just once in nine matches.
Their draw has been soft but victory against Merrivale last round proved they are peaking at the right time, as was the case in the past two seasons.
The late surge has coincided with the return of veterans Sam Lewis, Darcy Lewis and Andrew Niklaus to the side.
The latter pair have played forward, giving Chris Keilar the freedom to roam further up the ground or play closer to goals.
Allansford and Old Collegians cannot be discounted, but will have to chase the flag from the elimination final — no easy task.
Allansford seemed most likely to meet Panmure in the decider barely a month ago after stunning Merrivale on enemy turf.
But the loss of Sam Holloway to a broken collarbone and back-to-back defeats have them as flag outsiders.
The sense of deja vu is impossible to ignore. The Cats lost their last four in 2013 and bowed out of finals with little fight in the elimination final.
Old Collegians have done little wrong in recent weeks. Unfairly, perception more than anything else continues to dog the Davidson Oval men.
They upstaged Allansford three weeks ago and sent a scare through Panmure last weekend but were woeful early in a loss to Kolora-Noorat.
The Warriors’ points for and against statistics read poorly by comparison, too. Of the five sides left, they have the worst attack and second-worst defence.